In a study conducted in 2009 by the Center for Creative Leadership, one of the key findings was this:
Leaders are not adequately prepared for the future. Today’s leadership capacity is insufficient to meet future leadership requirements. The four most important future skills — leading people, strategic planning, inspiring commitment, and managing change — are among the weakest competencies for today’s leaders.
My experience has been that the study gets it right. In far too many cases we can look at the leaders in an organization and conclude that they are ill prepared to lead the business into the future. Those important future skills, by the way, weren’t chosen by the researchers, the 2,200 leaders surveyed for the study cited them as the most important.
So the question becomes, why? Why is there a huge gap between what most people agree leaders should be capable of and what they are actually good at? What causes this chasm between what organizations need from leaders, and what they actually get? There are many reasons but here are some of the key drivers of the disconnect:
I’m not talking about the sweaty palms wake up from a nightmare fear. I’m talking about the subtle fear that my boss controls my career and my destiny and I need to please him or her at all costs. This typically results in us doing what’s best for the boss whether it’s best for the organization or not. If your boss is a phenomenal leader, that’s’ ok, they are probably helping you to focus on the correct things. But what if they are just managing up as well? It’s ridiculously easy to end up with a chain of command that is focused on their own careers and no one leading the business.
It’s so easy in this fast paced world to fall into the trap of “I can lead tomorrow but today I just have to get this sale made or this problem fixed.” It’s no different from the “I can save for retirement tomorrow but today I need (insert immediate need here), or the “I can get in shape tomorrow but today I am too busy” syndrome. Leadership is not a quick fix, short term, immediate results kind of thing. Neither is retirement or physical fitness. Leadership takes time, effort and commitment and when we are caught in the chaos, we choose to leave it for tomorrow. Today we just make the sale ourselves, rather than helping someone else learn how. Or we resort to telling others what to do instead of helping them come up with a better solution on their own. We focus on getting things done instead of making others more capable of doing the things in the first place.
Lack of development
Many organizations don’t effectively invest in helping their leaders become better and relatively few leaders even invest in themselves in this regard. In many cases, it’s assumed that just doing the job every day will make leaders more capable. That’s like saying that an athlete can just play the games and become great, which is never the case. Behind the performance on game day there are coaches, drills, practice sessions, learning opportunities and an effort to create the right mindset so they can succeed when it matters most. We don’t approach leadership that way. We assume that everyone will figure it out on the job and if they don’t, we can get a new leader who will. For that philosophy to be successful, there needs to be a ready supply of capable leaders out there – there isn’t. We can make ourselves and our leaders better, if we put a sustainable plan in place to make it happen rather than leave it to chance.
Research, our own observations and our own experience tell us that leadership is lacking in our companies, our organizations and even in our communities. There are many reasons for it but the reality is that we either begin to fix that problem, sometimes starting with ourselves, or we can be sure that tomorrow will look a lot like today. If that’s what we want for our business, and ourselves well then we can relax, we’ve got that covered. But if we want more, it’s time to lead.